Sebastian FAGERLUND (b. 1972)
Violin Concerto Darkness in Light (2012) [26:38]
Ignite (2010) [29:31]
Pekka Kuusisto (violin)
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hannu Lintu
rec. 2013, Helsinki Music Centre, Finland
BIS BIS-2093 SACD [56:56]

Finnish composer Sebastian Fagerlund has previously appeared on the BIS label with a Clarinet Concerto and other works made a Recording of the Month by Oleg Ledeniov (review). Many of the descriptive words used for that recording apply here, in a Violin Concerto which is symphonic in its orchestral scale and monumental in its intensity and white-hot pitch of creative engagement.

Violinist Pekka Kuusisto is a major partner in the composition of Darkness in Light, his skill as a performer and the artistic collaboration between the two artists “fuelled the composition process.” There is for instance a cadenza in which the composer trusts Kuusisto to improvise freely, resulting in some extraordinary but entirely idiomatic sounds from the violin. This is the kind of work you need to hear a few times to gain a real grip of its content, not because the idiom is difficult, just because there is so much happening that, like a good movie, you know there will be plenty of details and nuances to pick up on and appreciate during re-runs. The title ‘Darkness in Light’ covers every aspect and any associations you have while listening. The first and third movements might be considered devilishly dark and the second radiating heavenly light, but all are chock full of opposing tensions. The booklet points out the connection of these aspects with death and life, but in this case it is the desperate brevity of living and the infinite span of non-living which occupies us, referring to the Hotaru quote “’Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.’ Death illuminates life because being reminded of it intensifies the present moment.”

We are not permitted real repose in this concerto. The slow movement has its quietness and beauty but this is not sleepy stasis, rather a constant motion towards the unknown. The finale returns us to the wildness of the first movement, Bruscamente in action and tone. Fagerlund’s music has an inner life which is dramatic and theatrical as well as being a life-and-death struggle, the soloist often crushed by the orchestra but re-emerging as a defiant leader, the timbres of the orchestra filled with detail even when in full cry, the presence of the solo violin a pulsing artery without which the orchestra would atrophy.

Ignite is a fine coupling for the Violin Concerto, its dark moods and nervy restlessness occupying comparable terrain. The booklet directs us towards a ‘spiral movement’ in terms of formal structure, with musical material returning “as if from the point of view of a continually expanding orbit.” This creates continuity as well as a fantastic ride full of surprise and apparently endless invention, a “constant collision of ideas that ‘ignites’ new energy.” There are some fragments which might suggest John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine, and Ignite has a romantic streak which sets it apart from the more enigmatic concerto. There are cinematic effects and grand gestures which throw us into different ‘scenes’ like an instrumental opera, from perhaps the stillness of a dense forest in the Lento misterioso to a frenetic chase between mythical entities in the final Estalto.

Performed with remarkable virtuosity by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and with BIS’s usual superlatively detailed and ideally balanced recording, this is a release which deserves being heard by all enthusiasts for good 21st century music.

Dominy Clements

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